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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Someone's Watching, Always Watching OR The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Book Type: Trainspotting meets Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Stereotype Alert: none

Cover Art: Jail cell plus tiny, tiny Anais?

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Blech.  Okay.  Um... Angus, Shortie, Jay et. al?

Character Score: 8 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Constant criminal and perpetual foster care teen Anais is being carted off to a new group home in handcuffs.  Did she really beat that cop into a coma?  Will this home be any different than the scores of others?

X-Factor:  Dialect

Cover Art: I've seen better, I've seen worse.  I am glad, however, that this cover isn't a black a white picture of a teen with smudged eyeliner huddled against a brick wall.  That would be the worst possible choice for this book.  So, I dunno.  I'll give it a C+.  I would like to state for the record that the title alone gives me flashbacks to grad school and a class where we had to read Foucault's Discipline and Punish. I am creeped out already.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: This was a tough one since so many of the people Anais knows are completely shitty human beings.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it wouldn't be too out of character for Anais to sleep with Angus- even if he is her social worker.  A. she slept with a teacher at her high school and B. Angus gives Anais weed.  So, yeah. Maybe.  I love Shortie.  I just want to bundle her and Anais up and set them down in their own little apartment to live a normal life.  I won't even get started on Jay.  What a fucking creep.  Hope you get shanked in prison, bitch.

Character Score: No contest here.  This book is all about Anais and her world of foster care teens.  They all have their own quirks and wounds and you can't help but love them due to Fagan's vivid writing.

What's the Story?:

pan·op·ti·con  /paˈnäptiˌkän/- noun.  A circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed. 
Oxford English Dictionary

Anais Hendricks is unlike any fifteen-year-old you've probably ever met.  Orphaned by a woman who gave birth at a mental hospital and then disappeared, Anais has spent her entire life in the foster care system in Scotland.  As the book opens, we find our lead character in the back of a police car (a rather normal occurrence for Anais) headed to a new group home.  This home is actually the Panopticon; a former mental institution with 24/7 surveillance.  The Panopticon is used to house the most serious juvenile offenders and Anais soon finds herself in the company of a handful of teens who are either A. broken, B. mentally unstable, C. violent or D. all of the above.  But Anais doesn't have to work very hard to prove her status in this new home since her reputation has reached the doors before the police car: Anais is suspected of beating a policewoman so badly that she is now in a coma.  Anais, however, was higher than a kite at the time of the crime and can remember nothing.  

The story is told from Anais' point of view and is filled with her frustration with the system (it's amazing what the social workers don't ask), her dreams and commentary about "the experiment" and flashbacks to her adoptive mother who was murdered when Anais was still young.  Anais, like many kids in foster care homes, bonds quickly and deeply with her fellow "inmates" and they become a new family unit.  When the threat of throwing Anais into a secure lock-up until she can be placed in a regular jail looms near, and devastating events throw her new family into chaos, Anais must decide if she is going to the criminal everyone in the foster system assumes she is or if she will discover her true self.

X-Factor: I canae even tell you how fucking fun the dialog in this book is.  If you arenae a fan of dialect (i.e A Clockwork Orange or even The Sound and the Fury) you will probably nae enjoy this novel.  But if like me, you were instantly transported with flashbacks of Spud and Sick Boy, you will appreciate the world that Fagan is portraying.  

This is a very gritty, realistic telling of a life that has always been hard.  One that probably won't get any better.  Anais talks openly about drug abuse, prostitution, child molesters, rape and AIDS.  Ultimately, if Fagan's goal was to shine a harsh light on the modern-day foster car system, she has succeeded.  Readers will potentially be horrified by the experiences Anais has lived through, but will want to cheer for her to become a healthy, independent person.  The easiest explanation of this book that I can give is this:  it is like Trainspotting took place in the foster care system and all of the main characters are much younger and have infinitely shittier lives.  But in a good way?  I dinnae.  Don't be a fanny.  Read The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.

PS- sorry the formatting is super weird on this post.  Blogger hates me today!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Book Type: YA lit, "issue" books, sexting

Stereotype Alert: Whiny pants. 

Cover Art: Attack of the Big Face! Also: "Ugh.  So bored right now."

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Uh, none? 

Character Score: 2 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Ashleigh has a pretty great life: awesome boyfriend, awesome best friend, and cool parents.  But when she and her boyfriend Kaleb start growing apart before he's scheduled to leave for college, Ashleigh thinks she may need to take a bold step in order to keep his mind off of all those college girls.  Once Ashleigh texts Kaleb a naked photo of herself, neither of their lives will ever be the same.

X-Factor: hot topic (no, not the store)


Stereotype Alert: Ashleigh is kind of a Whiny McWhiny-pants. I know that teenagers can be really full of themselves and really upset about how unfair things are, but I guess I just felt like Ashleigh didn't ring as true as some of Brown's other characters. 

Cover Art: Cue the Big Face, as Forever Young Adult would say.  Also, this girl just looks sooooo bored!  Like, ugh.  I'd like it better if there was a photo somewhere on the cover.  As in, a photo of a photo since that's what this book is about.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Book, I was soooo not into you.  So much so that I can't even play my own little stupid game with myself.  I didn't want to kill anyone, with the possible exception of Kaleb (grow up, dude) but I didn't want to marry anyone or jump in anyone's pants either.  Meh.

Character Score: Again I say: Meh.  I think Brown does great things with characters... just not in this particular book.

What's the Story?: Ashleigh Maynard has a pretty great life. In the summer before her Junior year she has a great best friend, a sweet boyfriend, a place on the cross-country team and a decent relationship with her parents. While at her best friend Vonnie's great summer bash, a drunken Ashleigh is starting to feel really bummed that her boyfriend Kaleb keeps ditching her to play baseball and hang out with his friends. Soon, a few friends have convinced Ashleigh that she should send him a naked photo of herself- you know so he doesn't forget her when he goes off to college in the fall. After all, lots of people do it. Before she can think twice, Ashleigh has snapped the pic and sent the text to Kaleb.

Flash forward a few months. Kaleb has gone off to college and Ash finds that he is still pulling away from her. She tries to call him but keeps accusing him of sleeping with college girls. Finally, Kaleb has had enough and comes home one weekend to break up with Ashleigh. Things get out of hand and before Ashleigh knows what is happening the great boyfriend she used to love has turned into a spiteful, mean individual.

Then the whispers start. At first, Ashleigh has no idea what the guys at school are talking about. Until a friend tells Ashleigh that her nude photo is being passed around the entire school via text. Someone even added her name and phone number to the bottom of the photo and now she is getting all kinds of sick and mean texts from people. What is going on? How did the photo get out? Kaleb would never do something like that...would he?

In a whirlwind of chaos, Ashleigh is suspended from school, arrested for "distributing child pornography" and in order to set an example, she is forced to do 60 hours of community service with a bunch of other teens who have messed up. Sure, she made a really stupid mistake by taking that picture, but she never intended for anyone but Kaleb to see it. Why has Vonnie suddenly ditched her? And why is everyone making her out to be a criminal? The saying goes that a "picture is worth a thousand words" but it may not tell the whole story.

Thousand Words is a book for those of you who like realistic stories. Told between flashbacks and Ashleigh's daily life spent doing community service, you get to piece the story together while seeing all of the confusion inside her head. Technology may make our lives easier, but as Jennifer Brown shows, once something is out in cyber space, it stays in cyber space.

 X-Factor: Jennifer Brown tackles yet another hot topic in her newest YA novel.  Hot topic.  Am I the only one who now has the "Burning down the Hot Topic" song from South Park stuck in my head?  Just me?  Ok then.  But seriously, I would TOTALLY have read this when I was a teenager.  I looooooved "issue" books: drug addiction, abuse, rape, eating disorders, crime- the more intense, the more enthralled I became.  These books were so far from my boring existence that I almost couldn't believe that people lived these sorts of lives.  And lots of teens today have the same fascination that I did. 

Here's my PSA: This is a serious topic.  With the invention of the internets, life has become a whole lot more complicated.  The things you do or say are out there forever (or until someone fries everything with a well-placed EMP.  Whichever comes first).  Barring any extreme terrorist acts, stupid things that people do will live on forever via the net.  It's a damn good thing that cell phones didn't have cameras and video when I was a teen.  I'm not saying that I would have sent nude photos all over the place but... if nothing else, I probably would have gotten a lot of other people's stupid acts on video.  And I probably wouldn't have listened to any adults saying "This stuff is out there forever, you can't take it back!" But damn.  Kids will be kids to an extent, and I know you gals out there want to look sexy for your boyfriends.  But do you really want to take a risk that a college, future employer or *gasp* even your kids could someday possibly see you naked?  Like, full-frontal naked.  Seriously.  Keep it in your pants.  Or if absolutely necessary, keep it in your pants until you are absolutely sure that there are no phones or cameras around. 

Alrighty, that bit of preaching aside, this was not my favorite Jennifer Brown book.  Nobody does issue books like her and if you haven't read her award-winning novel Hate List yet you certainly should do so.  Jennifer is even a pretty awesome person.  I was in contact with her to see if she would Skipe with a teen book group after we read her novel and she said she would!  For free!  (Unfortunately, I never got to do the book group because it was just a bit to racy for the library I was in at the time).  But this book?  Skip it.  I will await her next work with anticipation tinged with skepticism.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fifty Shades of Knockoffs

A friend suggested that I do a "These Books Actually Exist" book post all about the Fifty Shades of Grey read alikes that are out there.  There are so many of them that they (and the marketing geniuses who jumped on the bandwagon behind their publication) deserve their very own post.  Well, sort of.

Much like my "These Books Actually Exist" posts, I will admit up front that I have not read the entirety of Fifty Shades.  I haven't even read two full chapters.  And I have no intention of doing so for soooooooo many reasons.  To those who are all "OMG!  Fifty Shades was totally awesome and hawt!  I've never read anything like that before!"  Dude. First of all, the books were written as Twilight fan fiction.  Meaning, a Twilight fan wrote a book about what would happen if Bella and Edward got super freaky.  Yeah.  Not reading that.  Second,  go to the paperback romance section at your local library or independently owned book store.  Hell, go to a drug store for all I care.  See those books?  Ninety percent of them contain the same amount of "racy" material.  They may have ugly covers with a lot of lords and ladies in various states of undress, but sex is sex.  True, not all erotic romance books deal with BDSM.  But there are many books out there that cover the experience in a much more engaging and realistic manner.  I'll take my "trashy" books ala Anita Blake and her orgy of vampires/wereanimals, thank you very much.

Since E.L. James's self publish books exploded onto the literary book scene, there has been a veritable plethora of books clambering to be "The next 50 Shades."  Publishers seem to think that if you take a crappy romance book and stick a cover on it that has a close-up of a flower or a piece of jewelry or whatever that people will automatically buy said book and devour anything else that author writes.  And there are a ton to choose from!

Nonfiction publishers are now jumping into the fray with 50 Shades themed cookbooks.  Yes.  Cookbooks.  And of course there are 50 Shades board games, sex toys, t-shirts etc.  Some are meant to be funny.  Some are well... you'll see.

So here is a list of the many books and other items that publishers are trying to market as the next Fifty Shades of Grey.

The actual romance novels:

Maya Banks has been writing erotica for years.  And her books are very popular.  And they will only become more so what with the 50 Shades of Grey movies about to be made!  Bank's Sweet series is supposed to be really good and have a lot of variety for all of you romance readers.

All of Sylvia Day's book are looking like 50 Shades knockoffs these days.  The Crossfire trilogy is really being pushed at 50 Shades readers.  Can I just say how classy those fake pearl clip-on earrings are?  Gold star, cover art person!

The Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton has a federal agent twist to things.  Because sometimes you like your sex to be uh, official.

From that cover, to this:

Looks like someone is redoing the marketing for Shayla Black's series about the hostess of a cable sex talk show...

Here's another comparison of how publishers are making the switch to 50 Shades-ish covers.  Megan Hart is another popular erotica author whose books are getting a face lift.

50 Shades of cookbooks, anyone?

That's right, ya'll!  It's 50 Shades of Chicken.  I particularly like that the author is "FL Fowler."  Oh, and here is a link to the book trailer for this guy if you are curious...

Because nothing is sexier than Kale.  Yeah.  Sweet, sweet Kale.  Note: this is the new edition.  The old one looked like this:

And then we have 50 Shades of Quinoa (available exclusively as a Kindle edition).  It's a best seller, guys!

Bacon, ya'll.  Delicious, greasy bacon! Points for making a necktie out of your main ingredient to use as the cover art.

Ok.  You get it.  There are lots more out there.  Really.

Play on the title 50 Shades of...

Correct.  This books contains stories about an African Grey parrot named Pickles.  This is his fourth book.  From Pickles the Parrot's website:
 "Everyday life with an African Grey Parrot seen through the humorous and often twisted mind of his owner, Georgi.  Her interesting perspectives on animal intellect and unique insights into nature take the reader on a thought provoking, entertaining and often hilarious ride.  The star of the book, Pickles, takes his adventures in stride with wit and charm."  

That's right, folks!  It's zombie porn.  Because nothing gets my motor humming like leaking body fluids and decaying flesh.

Heh. Heh. Heh.  Ok.  That's kind of funny.

Sure.  Why not?

God I hope that one is a joke...

Other weird crap that people are slapping 50 Shades on:

Because when you think of "Mommy Porn," you think of crappy house music.  Yeah, yeah.  Dub step isn't house music.  I know.

Look at all of the fun you could be having with the official 50 Shades of Grey sex toy collection.  Gee wiz!

And then this happened...

Yep.  It's already been turned into a parody musical.

So there you have it, folks.  All of the things you never wanted to know that people were using to make money.  All in one nice little (Ok.  Giant) post.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reference Question of the Day!

I've looked up some strange things at the Reference Desk.  You just never know what is going to pop out of a patron's mouth.  Here's one that was passed down to me at a patron's request via our library director:

Backstory:  There are patrons- every library has at least one who, honestly, are either A. hypocondriacs B. want someone at the library to do all of their work/research/physical movement for them or C. just loooove being a pain in the ass.  This particular patron has a long standing history of petty library complaints that she likes to blame on the library staff or the fact that she has [insert disease/affliction here].

The patron calls our director (who is "an angel!  And I have so few angels in my life!") and asks if the cases for our audiobooks contain vinyl or polyethylene glycol.  Because polyethylene glycol makes her "short of breath."  So, being the person in charge of the audiobook collection, our director asks me to see if I can find out anything.  I am thinking that I am going to get a big, fat "What on earth?  Uh, there's plastic in our cases.  Yeah.  Plastic."- type response.

So I call our representative at Books On Tape (a Random House company).  He does a bit of digging and calls me back a few hours later to tell me that they switched manufacturing companies a few years ago in an effort to be more Earth friendly.  The cases are made of polypropylene (recyclable no. 5) and other recycled materials. Super duper.

I then call the office for Midwest Tapes.  My representative wasn't in so the secretary tried to page his boss. No dice.  She tells me she'll try to get back to me and sure enough, there is a voicemail waiting for me the next day.  Same thing- polypropylene.  Not only that, the secretary called me back again just to double check that I'd gotten her message.

And so, dear library patron, your can breathe easy with as much breath as you like.  Your library's audiobooks are safe.  And you, dear blog reader, learned something new today.  Probably not something you wanted to know or would ever think of wanting to know, but still.  Knowledge is power and all that.

What I was sure would be a brush-off by these two vendors actually turned out to be a very positive customer service experience.  Props to both Books On Tape and Midwest Tapes!